How to read Wittgenstein

I always emphasize to my students that philosophy starts with problems rather than answers or solutions: if you have not been troubled by and grappled with a philosophical problem, it would be a waste of time for you to try to understand suggested solutions to the problem. This is, I think, Wittgenstein's view of philosophy too. I cannot agree more with John W. Cook when he writes:

It would go very much against Wittgenstein's spirit to proceed as though one could recognize the solution to a philosophical problem without being oneself in the grip of that problem. Unfortunately, many of Wittgenstein's would-be followers seem to think that one can do philosophy by starting from Wittgenstein's view that philosophical problems are nothing but intellectual muddles. Those who proceed in this manner tend to think that philosophical problems can be dealt with, as it were, from the outside, as if one could plant oneself firmly in some safe, uncontaminated region and hand down solutions in a pontifical manner. The 'solutions' thus arrived at typically fail to engage with the problems they are meant to solve, but they also, because of their glibness, infuriate philosophers who are grappling with those problems. Their glibness, which is merely annoying, is of less moment than the fact that they fail to engage with the targeted problem, which makes it appear that Wittgenstein, too, failed to address those problems. (Wittgenstein, Empiricism, and Language, p.202)

This passage beautifully connects Wittgenstein's view of philosophy to how Wittgenstein's philosophy should be read. Bravo!


  1. What's so surprising? To grapple with a philosophical problem is not only the way to read Wittgenstein, it is indeed also the basic skill when one is doing other disciplines, continental philosophy, literary studies, history, sociology, etc. In other words, these disciplines, unlike analytic philosophy, would as their duties try to problematise the life world, or to seek the production of crisis. Didn't your professors teach you that when you were an undergraduate of anayltic philosophy, Mr W.Wong?

  2. It seems that you simply don't understand what I mean by "troubled by and grappled with a philosophical problem".

  3. What the hell does "problematise the life world"